The aim is to provide knowledge about financial, environmental, and resource use implications of design, policy, and business management for REES. Such knowledge supports companies and policymakers in their activities for transitioning to a more resource-efficient and circular society. This research specifically aims to support actors in the early phases of experimentation on ways of changing designs, management, and policy for REES.
The circular economy is expected to increase resource availability and reduce environmental impacts. Although such potential benefits can be mainly confirmed through available literature, our research in Mistra REES Phase 1, importantly, also points to large variations in benefits and even risks of increased impacts. We identified that any REES does not fit any product, but instead needs to be matched with certain product characteristics to have a high potential to reduce impacts.
For example, there is a clear difference between what solutions fit consumable and durable products, active and passive products, and products that are typically used for their full technical lifetimes and those that are discarded before being worn out. Furthermore, the benefits will depend on the specific real-world conditions in which the solutions are implemented.
There are also risks of trade-offs between different types of environmental impact, such as climate change and resource depletion. Such highly relevant, yet complex conclusions have been drawn using life cycle assessment (LCA) and material flow analysis (MFA) and are crucial for companies and policy makers for selecting REES with high potential and implementing them in ways that realize their benefits. For this purpose, the findings have been brought forward for developing develop and testing a design support tool and exploring circular business models.
The challenge of capturing the benefits and drawbacks of REES is particularly large in the
early phases of product development and policy transitions. Early phases involve significant uncertainties regarding the final solutions and the future conditions in which they will be used. Accounting for uncertainties in the assessments is thus crucial, and even more so in the context of substantially extended lifetimes and multiple-use cascades in a more circular economy, e.g., long-life followed by remanufacturing, repurposing and recycling.
The research in Phase 2 will thus explicitly address such uncertainties in assessments of environmental and resource use impacts of REES considered by manufacturing companies. This also involves estimating future resource potentials for circular loops in terms of quantity, timing, and location. These potentials depend on the supply of products, components, and materials for such solutions and the degree to which they can satisfy market demand and are crucial for companies as well as policy when launching or creating incentives for these solutions.
Mistra REES Phase 2 will also address the financial implications of circular solutions. Methods for assessing the complex financial implications of such solutions, from both a provider and customer perspective, will be developed. Based on life cycle costing and traditional financial capital budgeting and costing techniques, these methods will capture the complexity in these processes and investments’ life cycles and will be tested in case studies.